Portrait of Bath: Nicola Beauman (founder of Persephone Books)

Nicola Beauman’s company Persephone Books celebrates mid-20th century women writers. These books, in their classic mid-grey designs, make available engrossing stories that might otherwise have been lost.
For the company’s founder, Persephone Books arose out of years of her being at home with small children, this allowing her time to rediscover 20th-century women writers, to buy books for 20p or go to the London Library and come home with an armful of forgotten titles.
Persephone Books – the name chosen as a symbol of female creativity and of new beginnings – published its first title in the spring of 1999. Nicola’s original concept was to re-print a handful of ‘lost’ or out-of-print books every year, most of them interwar novels by women. Starting in a basement office in Clerkenwell, Persephone moved to Bloomsbury three years later, opening its first shop there too; in 2021, the whole business moved to Bath.

“Persephone books are all grey because – well – we really like grey”, says Nicola. “We also had a vision of a woman who comes home tired from work, and there is a book waiting for her, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like because she knows she will enjoy it. Our books look beautiful because we believe that, whether they are on an office desk or hanging in a bag over the handles of a pram, it is important to take pleasure from how they look and feel.”

Nicola was brought up in London and read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her 1983 book A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel, 1914-1938, a mixture of literary criticism and social history, has been an important source for many of Persephone Books’ titles. This book was also significant for its focus on women’s everyday lives, an element that runs through the company’s published titles. However the characters are not categorically limited by domesticity, often having careers or non-traditional interests.

Other publications are unearthed in various ways: someone bringing one into the office; finding out about a book in a publisher’s advertisement at the back of another title; coming across one in a secondhand bookshop or a library; and realising that a volume of classic quality was unaccountably not in print. The books mostly date from the mid-20th century, explains Nicola, because this was an age of quality writing by often well-educated women where society was not yet ready to allow them to work outside the home: writing in this way gave them a voice.

Persephone Books, 8 Edgar Buildings, Bath BA1 2EE

Portrait by Joe Short. Joe is an award-winning photographer based in Bath. joeshort.com